Injuries crippled junior Shamrocks season

Jr. Shamrocks season could have been better, says general manager

With the disappointment, and promise, of the Victoria junior Shamrocks’ recently ended season still milling about Rod Wood’s mind Tuesday night, a funny thing happened.

And then it happened again, and again, and once more, all while Wood watched the Western Lacrosse Association Shamrocks defeat the New Westminster Salmonbellies from a private box in Bear Mountain Arena.

Kory Kowalyk, Karsen Leung and Matt Yager – who were all junior Shamrocks at one time – each scored as the senior Shamrocks defeated New West 8-7.

Kowalyk scored twice.

“That’s the best part of it,” said Wood, general manager of the junior Shamrocks.

“Watching these guys grow into Western Lacrosse Association and, some of them into National Lacrosse League players.”

In a sad but ironic twist, it was the junior Salmonbellies who eliminated the Jr. Rocks from the junior playoffs in two straight games on the weekend.

It’s now been four seasons since the Shamrocks were provincial champions in 2008. This year’s squad was likened to the 2008 team, with the type of depth necessary to compete for a provincial championship.

“This year we’d hoped for more, it was disappointing for us,” Wood said. “The team could have been better, and we underachieved.”

When the Jr. Rocks went to the Minto Cup nationals in 2008, there was no clear-cut superstar who shouldered that team, though Cory Conway, now with the Nanaimo Timbermen, was close on some nights.

The current Jr. Shamrocks team is the same. And so are the expectations.

So perhaps Brody Eastwood, or Jesse King, or Dane Schoor, would have turned into that marquee player. But injuries, unlucky and all, kept coach Larry Smeltzer from finding that mix, Wood said.

“Injuries were the undoing. Our season is 21 games, and it wasn’t until the 17th game we made a healthy scratch. It was difficult for (Smeltzer) to bring his system in without consistent players at the practices. He was always starting from scratch.”

Smeltzer’s brazen approach to the season was refreshing for long time fans of the box game, but at mid-season it was clear he needed an adjustment, and he made one.

“The team had a hybrid system using the good points of (his 1980s) system, and the good points of the current way of playing box lacrosse,” Wood said.

“I think it would have won us a championship. If (Smeltzer) wants to come back, we’ll be happy to give it another shot. We figured it would take a while to get it in place.”

This year’s injury list went from good to bad. Brody Eastwood missed four games with a tweaked ankle and still managed sixth in overall scoring with 62 points, three in the playoffs.

But they were fluke injuries, the kind that curse a season.

Devon Casey, another top scorer, got hit in the head with a board while working on a construction site and suffered a concussion.

No. 1 defender Brandan Smith only played 13 games, as the 6-foot-3, 220 lb. tough guy from the Victoria Cougars junior-B hockey team suffered shin splints, a runners’ injury.

Dane Schoor had ligament damage in his hands, missed six weeks and couldn’t shoot at full strength when he returned.

“It was one after another, all pretty significant players,” Wood said.

Not too mention transition star Jesse King, who returned from Ohio State in time to play five games. In that span he scored 17 points, which would have put him on pace for 68 points, first on the team. But King is in Finland for the U19 world field lacrosse championships with team Canada, and won’t be back until next week.

Returning to the Jr. Shamrocks next year are 14 players from the 2010 B.C. Intermediate-A provincial championship Victoria team. All win be in their final Jr. A season, and Wood is hoping for a better outcome.

 

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